An article by The Other Oregon investigates housing and homelessness in rural Oregon and how some rural communities are addressing the problem. Dan Brown, Burns city manager, was interviewed for the article .
Brown knows first-hand how difficult finding affordable permanent housing when you move to Harney County to work, because he lived in a travel trailer parked in an RV park until he could buy a house that was in the process of being remodeled. He's finishing the remodel himself.
Besides the need for housing to attract professional and skilled workers, there is a need for housing for lower-income residents. Brown estimates Burns-Hines has 40 to 50 homeless people. He acknowledged that many in the community want affordable housing, but don't want to provide low-income housing. He disagrees with this stance because the community needs affordable housing for all of its residents.
The nuts and bolts of how Burns is moving forward to provide affordable housing is being decided by the Burns Urban Renewal Agency (BURA), which was created by the Burns City Council after the city identified Blighted Areas (as defined by Oregon statute) within in its boundaries. The BURA then created a draft Burns Urban Renewal Plan that identifies 389.55 acres of land in tax lots and 01.8 acres of public right-of-way within what is termed the Burns Urban Renewal Area. Within this area are properties in need of rehabilitation, undeveloped properties such as parks, and vacant land that may be developed for housing. The following map outlines the Urban Renewal Boundary, which is found in the draft Burns Urban Renewal Plan.
Figure 1. Burns Urban Renewal Area Boundary (from draft Burns Urban Renewal Plan)
Readers are encouraged to read the documents published by the BURA to learn about:
Oregon's robust economy has produced $2.5 billion in unplanned tax revenues that can be used to
create good-paying jobs and improve the quality of life for its residents. The spending priorities identified by Oregon Democratic leadership were rural communities, behavioral health, public safety, workforce development, energy efficiency, education, and help for low-income Oregonians. HB 5202, approved during the 2022 short Oregon legislative session with bipartisan supports, created a budget to transform these priorities into specific budget line items. For example, Harney County received $2 million to improve the Harney County fairgrounds in response to lobbying by the Oregon Fair Board. In acknowledgment of rural Oregon's unique needs and to reduce the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans, HB 5202 also allocated a no string attached $100 million rural Oregon infrastructure package to be spent at the discretion of state senators and representatives in rural Oregon counties. The bill also included $100 million for affordable childcare, although it is unclear how much of this this will be allocated to Harney County.
The portion of 2022 $100 million rural allocation package administered by State Senator Lynn Findley and State Representative Mark Owens will be on top of the $4 million allocated to State Senator Lynn Findley and $2 million allocated to State Representative Mark Owens by the Democratic-led Oregon legislature in 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan. Senator Findley allocated all of the $4 million American Rescue Plan funds under his control to Grant, Jefferson, and Malheur counties. Representative Owen allocated $1 million of the American Rescue Plan funds under his control to Harney County to improve the Harney County Fairgrounds.
The 2021 American Rescue Plan is a one -time pulse of spending on programs intended contain the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the economy to benefit low- and moderate-income Americans who did not recover from the 2008 recession or were hard-hit by the pandemic. Although not designed to specifically benefit rural America, rural areas may receive a higher percentage of the benefits because they experience a higher rate of poverty. For example, the Harney District Hospital received $631,745 in COVID-19 relief funding. Harney County school districts developed plans for how they would spend over $2 million of ARP funds for health and safety improvements and mitigate learning gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In October 2021, Harney County school District 3 board unanimously approved using $600,000 of the funds for an Audio Enhancement System for all of the district's schools. The jurisdiction of Harney County was projected to receive $1.43 million dollars, but is unclear, at the time of this article, how this money is being spent. The Burns Paiute Tribe received $104,915 to build affordable housing. The city of Hines will receive $314,000. The first payment of $150,000 will be used to repair the lift station at the sewage lagoon, and remaining funds will be used to create a facility master plan of the wastewater system. It is unclear if the city of Burns received any American Rescue Plan funds.
In 2021 President Joe Biden also signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The anticipated benefits of this bill to rural America include water projects, wildfire prevention, mine cleanup, greater flexibility in hours for livestock haulers, trucker recruitment and job training, improved roads and bridges, improved power grid security, habitat restoration in the Klamath Basin, increased funding for rural school districts, improved shipping port facilities, and increased broadband access.
The High Desert Partnership received over $5 million from the Oregon Department of Forestry to implement the Southeast Oregon Wildfire Resiliency Project. This money was allocated by the Democrat-led state legislature in Oregon SB 762. High Desert Partnership also received $750,000 from Business Oregon, the State of Oregon's economic development agency to provide technical assistance to small businesses in Harney County. The funds will be distributed to small businesses in collaboration with Euvalcree, the Burns Paiute Tribe, the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, and Launch Pad Baker.
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